At UFC 187, a new light heavyweight champion was crowned for the first time since March 2011. After longtime titleholder Jon Jones was stripped of his title, Anthony “Rumble” Johnson and Daniel “DC” Cormier squared off to determine who would hold the newly vacated belt. Many thought Johnson would come out the victor, but Cormier was able to weather an early storm and get the submission victory in the third round. At the post-fight press conference is where the story really begins.
Ryan Bader was in attendance during the UFC 187 post-fight presser and charged toward Cormier on stage accusing him of ducking the fight. DC responded by calling Bader an “easy paycheck.” Now, the UFC can market a heated rivalry. Bader vs. Cormier was originally set to take place next month at UFC Fight Night 68, but DC was pulled to fight for the vacant title, which obviously upset Bader. Cormier had just fought for the title in January and was unsuccessful. But is it really that far-fetched that Bader actually deserved a title shot maybe even more than Cormier did? Not really, especially when you look at the facts.
For instance, Cormier currently boasts four fights in the light heavyweight division. (His heavyweight fights bear no relevance here.) Cormier has beaten Patrick Cummins, who took the fight on 10 days’ notice, as well as Dan Henderson and, most recently, Johnson. Bader has 16 fights in the UFC light heavyweight division and has only suffered four defeats, all to former title challengers or champions. Bader has defeated fighters such as Keith Jardine, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Phil Davis, Ovince Saint Preux and Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante. Bader is currently riding a four-fight winning streak.
Still don’t think Bader deserves a shot?
Honestly, at this point, he is the only fighter that makes sense. For now.
The reason to say “for now” has to do with the UFC’s top 10 fighters ranked in the division. There’s an eerie trend among them: seven of the top 10 have been defeated by former champion Jon “Bones” Jones. And if Jones is given an immediate shot when he returns, then how is that fight going to be marketable? Jones has defeated Alexander Gustafsson, Cormier, Rashad Evans, Bader, Glover Teixeira, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Rampage. With the exception of Gustafsson, Jones defeated all of these men with relative ease. So, let’s say the UFC does the “right thing” and gives Bader a title shot that he in all aspects has deserved. Then what happens if he is victorious and Jones returns? How is that fight going to be marketable?
Arguably, the only fight that the UFC will be able to really sell if Jones returns will be Cormier vs. Jones II. That’s not because their first bout was a competitive fight, but it was one that fans were excited about after seeing the press-conference brawl and the trash talk leading up to the fight.
In the chance Jones doesn’t return and DC is victorious against Bader, a fight that may need to be put into the works is Rashad Evans vs. Alexander Gustafsson to determine a new No. 1 contender. We already know that Evans will not fight his teammate Rumble, so that really doesn’t leave a lot of options for who could be the next contender. The light heavyweight division went from being a logjam to containing a realistic lack of viable contenders.
So, here’s an open question to those who read this:
Who are the fighters in the division that are most worthy of challenging for a title during the absence of Jon Jones?
Bader? Evans? Rumble? Gustafsson?
The UFC matchmakers have a monumental task in front of them. For the sake of fighters and fans, let’s hope they have a plan.